Thursday, 23 June 2016

Tempted by a trio of Traighs

After leaving Camas Cuil an-t Saimh we continued up the west coast of Iona, accompanied by a faint rumbling noise....the sound of our stomachs gently reminding us that first luncheon had yet to be taken.

We were looking for the perfect beach - or Traigh in the Gaelic language - on which to land.  There are several excellent candidates and you might reasonably think we're too picky......

This one?  Too much weed near the water's edge so it might be a bit smelly........ we continued on.....

...along a shore composed of rugged Gneiss outcrops and tidal islands, edged with water of stunning clarity, still seeking the perfect Traigh.

How about this one?  Well, it was certainly a white sand beach backed with level machair on which to sit, but we spotted someone walking towards the bay from inland - just one person but it would feel crowded...... on we went....

......and just what we'd been looking for came into view.

Port Ban (white or fair port)- a strand of white sand enclosed by arms of rock, backed by low dunes and machair.  This was it; our third tempting Traigh was pretty much perfect!

While the others explored the shore, Douglas and I climbed up the rocky Cnoc (rocky hillock) above the bay to photograph......

...a small piece of paradise.  The colours were simply stunning; this image is straight from the camera with no processing; the polarising filter has brought out perfectly what we experienced -white sand fringed with water which went from "almost not there" clarity through aquamarine, turquoise and finally shades of deepest indigo.  The emerald green of early summer grasses and the pale greys of the rock added their own shades to the scene.

We rejoined Donald, Lorna and Allan and took a leisurely lunch on the beach - absorbing the special surroundings we found ourselves in.  Douglas took a short swim and I was tempted to join him, but the beach shelves so gently that it would have taken an almighty long run to achieve my "leg it really fast and dive in before you chicken out" approach so I settled for wading a short way into the water, which we can report as refreshing, then took a closer look at the beach itself.

The composition of the beaches here on the west side of Iona is quite different to most of those on the nearby Ross of Mull, where fine silvery white and pink sand is more prevalent.  The sand of Port Ban is shell sand, coarser than the rock sands.  It's dazzlingly white under sunshine and under certain conditions creates a valuable ecosystem.

Gneiss bedrock is pretty much impermeable and supports poor, acid soils because rainwater doesn't drain easily.  What plants are able to grow break down to a thin skin of peat and the resulting soils are acid and lacking in nutrients.  Close to beaches of shell sand however, the wind blows the calcium-rich shell fragments back from the beach to enrich the soil.  Low-intensity grazing and further improvement with seaweed by crofters can result in spectacular meadows of grasses and wildflowers - the machair.  Found almost exclusively on the outer fringes of the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland, there are just a few mainland sites.  Precious and rich in wildlife, the machair is one of Scotland's most special ecosystems.

If you look closely at the image above, a Groatie Buckie is waiting to be found!

We left Port Ban after luncheon very reluctantly - it's a place in which many hours could be passed; especially in such great weather, but there was so much more to be explored......

...and at times, the colours of this coast would simply defy adequate desciption.


  1. Fabulous photos, I love photos of kayaker floating on clear sea looking like they are suspended in mid air

    1. Thank you Allison, we certainly felt that we were suspended in mid-air all through this day


  2. Absolutely gorgeous, Ian! Warm greetings from Montreal, Canada. :)

    1. Thank you Linda, plenty more to come from this trip! :o)

      Kind Regards

  3. Really enjoyed Iona away from the religious crowds that arrive every year off the ferry and the white sparkling beaches dotted at intervals are magnificent. I've explored that part on foot and its tough going over thick heather but the views are worth it.

  4. The south and west of the island do look pretty tough going Bob, but as you say - worth it :o)

  5. These clear blue waters and beaches could be tropical Ian!

    1. They really do Steve - and the weather was doing its best too!

      ATB :o)